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Friday, 4 December 2015

Trip Home To Vancouver Island From The Grand Canyon

Our plan was to spend 15 or 16 days in the US traveling from Vancouver Island to The Grand Canyon and back. Linda had sent away for brochures on Utah and Arizona and plotted our route to the Grand Canyon and some of other things we were going to see along the way there.
We only had a general idea of how we were going to get back home. We knew we were going to have to drive west through a fair stretch of highway in Arizona. We wanted to travel a bit on the old Route 66. We would then drive across California to Route 101 and head north on the coast. Linda had never been to San Francisco before and I knew that she would be impressed with the city. After spending a day in San Francisco we would continue up the coast of Oregon, cut over to the I-5 interstate highway and zip up through Washington State to the Canadian border.
We kind of winged it during our whole trip as to where we were going to spend our nights. Other than our 3 day stay at The Grand Canyon we were usually on the road by 9:00 a.m. and sometimes a bit earlier. We would start looking for a motel towards 5 or 6 p.m. Neither Linda nor I are that fussy about driving long distances in the dark.
We allowed ourselves 6 days to make it back to Vancouver Island. We had left out dog Shelby at a kennel and I was hoping he was making out OK. The last time we had left him at a kennel he had two yappy coon dogs as neighbours and didn’t seem to be disturbed by that experience.
Day 10, Monday September 21st
We packed up our tent, gassed up the car, and had one last breakfast near the edge of The Grand Canyon. We then drove south to Flagstaff, Arizona which is about 80 miles away. We thought of going to the Sedona area south of Flagstaff but the skies were grey and we thought we would be better off chunking off a bit of the miles we still had to travel.
I was feeling a bit on the scruffy side and hadn’t brought a razor on the trip. There were some other small things we needed. It took us about an hour to find a Walgreen’s Drug Store. We had lunch at a Costco. Other than that we didn’t see much of Flagstaff.
Somewhere along the line we stopped at a Chevron gas station to fill up. I bought a road map of California and a souvenir Route 66 license plate. There was supposed to be a 2 dollar discount on the license plate. A grumpy guy at the cash took my money and didn’t give me the discount. Or a receipt! It was pretty obvious that he was stealing the money. The cash drawer never opened. For some reason I just wasn’t in the mood to confront the creep.
We were now on Highway 40 which crosses the middle of the state of Arizona. Most of Highway 40 used to be Route 66. About an hour or so west of Flagstaff we cut off Highway 40 and got on to a stretch of two lane blacktop that was part of the old Route 66. Other than some horses going for a dip in a pond we really didn’t see much of anything that stood out about this fabled highway.

I let my imagination wander. I thought about the Okies in The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl who took this route to get to California with the hope of finding work in the orange groves. Families, sometimes with Grandma and Grandpa and a slew of children, rode in old jalopies with everything they owned strapped to the car. I wondered about the young gals and guys who took this highway with hopes of becoming a star in Hollywood. In the late 1940s The Beat Generation’s Jack Kerouac travelled this road.

The construction of Route 66 began in 1926 and it wasn’t until 1938 that the whole length of the highway was paved. It was also called The Will Rogers Highway and unofficially “The Mother Road”. The beginning of the end of Route 66 happened in 1956. The US president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, signed The Interstate Highway Act. Eisenhower was impressed by the German Autobahn and thought that faster wider highways were a key component of a national defense system for the US. The old Route 66 was no freeway and only had two lanes, one going west and one going east. By 1970 nearly all segments of Route 66 had been bypassed by 4 lane highways. The highway was officially decommissioned in 1985.
I’ve always liked the lyrics to the Route 66 tune.  “It winds from Chicago to LA, more than 2,000 miles all the way.” Nat King Cole was the first to record the tune in 1946. It was written by a guy named Bobby Troup. Troup was married to singer Julie London and they both appeared in the TV series Emergency In the early 1970s. Other good versions of the song were recorded by The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, and the Manhattan Transfer. I still think Jerry Lee Lewis’s interpretation of the tune is the best. It’s hard to find on YouTube.
“It winds from Chicago to L.A., more than 2000 miles all the way. Get your kicks on Route 66.
Now you go through St. Louie, Joplin Missouri, Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty, you’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino.....”
We pulled into a small town called Seligman. It was pretty obvious from our first sighting that it was a tourist trap. The general theme of the stores and restaurants that lined a few blocks long the highway through town was the 1950s. The local FM radio station plays 50s oldies tunes that could be heard in every store and restaurant along the strip. Images of Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, James Dean, and Elvis Presley could be found on any souvenir imaginable. Some establishments had old cars on display. The only thing we bought was a Route 66 glass ash tray that was made in China. I kind of got the feeling that we had arrived in town in a slower part of the year as far as tourists go. It seemed that we would only be in a store for a moment or so before a sales clerk tried to pounce on us.


We decided to grab a burger at a local greasy spoon, a place called the Snow Cap. We ordered our food in a kind of hallway that had business cards and photographs all over the walls and ceiling. A guy behind the counter squirted a fake mustard thing at me. Some of the signs in the place were quite funny. The place had been around for a long time and I think the current owners are second generation. The tables were outside under some kind of awning. We picked up our food at a window that faced the tables. The burgers were tasty and it was a fun experience eating at this off beat place.

Our destination for the day was to get to Kingman, Arizona (it’s in the Route 66 song) in the western part of the state. We checked into a Super 8 motel. Nothing to write home about but it had a shower and a TV. The price was right. By this time we had been on the road for 10 days and I wanted to do some laundry. The Super 8 didn’t have a washer and dryer but I was told we could use the facilities at the motel next door. I found out that they didn’t have any laundry detergent so I just washed our stuff in very hot water.

I killed some time while the washing was being done watching TV in the motel lobby. I asked the gal desk clerk if I could watch the FOX station. We don’t get FOX at home and I wanted to see the right wing nuts and their guests rant and rave. I went outside a few times for a smoke and chatted with a guy who was staying at the motel. Apparently he had been there for a month waiting for his motor home to be repaired. He was in bad shape with a number of health problems including a bad back and a weak heart. He had a supped up 4 x 4 parked in the handicapped zone. It had 3 steps up to the cab. I tried to get my head around how he could even get into that vehicle when he could barely walk. When I went back inside the motel the desk clerk had switched the TV station to some bridal show.
Day #11 Tuesday September 22nd
We woke up early and left Kingman for California. Altogether we spent about 12 hours driving that day. We saw road signs that led to places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Lake Havasu (Years ago the old London Bridge was shipped there from England. That’s a lot of stones.), and Edwards Air Force Base. We crossed the southern part of the Mohave Desert.
In California we saw a billion fruit trees. We also saw the cement canals that irrigated the trees. From time to time we would see a sign the growers had put up complaining about the water restrictions. Their water source is the Colorado River.

We found our way to the I-5, the interstate highway, and headed north. My plan was for us to spend the night in San Jose. We had no idea where to get off the highway in San Jose and find an area where there were a number of motels so we winged it. I pulled the car over to the curb and thought the best thing to do was ask a local where the motels were. The first person I talked to wasn’t very helpful but she did tell me to stay away from Motel 6 and Super 8 because they were often occupied by welfare folks and bedbugs were a problem.
San Jose is pretty expensive city and we weren’t keen on spending 300 bucks for a room. We ended up in the airport area and I drove around for a while trying to find a place that was reasonable.  Finally we found one, the Caravelle Inn. I asked the front desk guy if they had any deals on rooms. (I always do that. It’s the total extent of my haggling.) The desk clerk said they had one room left at 135 bucks a night. I told him we would take it. Then he asked us if we like an upstairs room or a downstairs room. I had to laugh. Didn’t he just tell us that he only had one room left?

San Jose
We ate dinner at a Denny’s down the street. The restaurant was mostly empty. I noticed a middle aged couple a few booths away. In the hour that we were in the restaurant they never uttered a word to one another. She seemed to be looking at her cell phone on her lap. Some folks do live very strange lives I thought.
Day #12 Wednesday September 23rd
We left San Jose a little later than we had planned at about 9:30 a.m. It took us about an hour to get to San Francisco. I had been to the city by the bay twice before, once when I was about 30 years old and a few years later in 1981 on a honeymoon with my first wife. Several months after we got home (Vancouver) from our honeymoon I was watching the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. Michael Douglas and Karl Malden, the stars of the show who played two cops, pulled up to the curb in their car and ran up a motel stairway to th 2nd floor. They then ran down an outdoor hallway and into one of the rooms. It was the same motel and the same room my ex and I had stayed in. That kind of freaked me out a bit.

I drove up and down Nob Hill and number of times with the idea of giving Linda a bit of the flavor of the city. We saw some cable cars but it was hard to get a good photo of them from the car. The next spot on our list that we wanted to see was Fishermen’s Wharf (also known as The Embarcadero). We found a parking lot close to the wharves. I was a bit surprised when Linda told me that she had paid 35 bucks for parking. Her reasoning was that we would probably be there for more than 4 hours and the next longest term over 4 hours was an all-day ticket.

I asked a local cop where we could find Dimaggio’s Restaurant. I had eaten there years before. Baseball great Joe Dimaggio was born in San Francisco along with two of his brothers, Vince and Dom, who had long careers in major league baseball. The cop told me that the restaurant had burned down years before. I later found out that this wasn’t actually true. The restaurant went out of business around 1985.
In the latter part of the 20th century the Fishermen’s Wharf had become run down and most locals avoided the area. In 2010 over 15 million dollars was spent in refurbishing the wharf. Today it is one of the biggest tourists traps in the western US. Mostly it is restaurants and souvenir places. Being ocean side certainly makes the area attractive and there is a clear view of Alcatraz out in the bay. A pack of sea lions basked on some floating docks and you can see part of the San Francisco skyline.

Men waiting

We wandered around for several hours and had lunch at a seafood restaurant. I stood outside with a number of other men while Linda wandered in and out of a number of shops. She picked up some souvenirs for her kids.
Linda and I both really like the city and would like to go back there for 3 or 4 days and explore the city a bit more. When we got back to the parking lot I got the bright idea of selling our all-day parking pass for 15 bucks. I noticed a Hispanic guy leaning on the front of a car nearby but didn’t think much about it. I walked down to the ticket dispenser machine and offered my ticket to some tourists which would have saved them some cash. It turned out that the Hispanic guy worked for the parking lot and he told me I couldn’t resell our ticket. As I drove out of the parking lot I tossed my ticket to some tourists. I don’t think the Hispanic guy was pleased about that.
We drove over to the Golden State Bridge and stopped and took some pictures and then we took the cut off to Sausalito, an upscale ocean side area on the other side of the bridge I had visited years before. Some Asian girls on rented bicycles were causing a bit of havoc by veering into the traffic. It was now about 4:00 p.m. and I wanted to cover some more miles on our trip up the coast.

Idiot parents?
We were on Highway 101. We stopped off at San Rosa for a bit of a break and after looking at the map we weren’t quite sure where we were going to spend the night. We thought possibly in a town called Ukiah. I can’t recall why but we kept driving after passing through Ukiah and arrived at the small town of Laytonville. We were now driving in the dark. There were quite a number of older motels along the highway here but most of them had no vacancy signs lit up. We noticed that some of the motels had diesel rigs parked outside of the rooms. We didn’t have a clue why all of these motels were booked up and never found out.
We doubled back and spotted one motel with a vacancy sign. The motel was run by an East Indian family and they were cooking some kind of curry dish for dinner when we arrived. For some reason a lot of East Indians own older motels up and down the west coast of the US. I’ve never been sure why. I do know that a number of these older places are run down and very little effort is made to replace any furniture that is damaged, carpet stains are quite common, sometimes the taps don’t work that well in the bathroom sink, and if a wall gets marked up they just paint over it. I guess on the upside the rooms are usually pretty cheap running from 50 to 75 dollars a night.
We paid 65 bucks for our room. I asked Linda to wait in the car while I checked out the room. As I walked across the parking lot I saw 3 dogs tied up to a post outside of the room next to ours. I went and got our money back and we got back on the 101 heading north. About an hour later we pulled off the highway on the exit to another small town called Garberville. We stopped at first motel we saw. It was now about 10 p.m. There was nobody at the front desk and the reception room was locked. We rang the buzzer and guy turned up a few minutes later. We were quite happy to finally find a bed for the night. A young guy was playing his guitar outside a few doors away. By the sound of his singing he won’t be on The Voice anytime soon.
Day 13 Thursday September 24th
I got up at about 7 a.m., made myself a coffee and went outside to have a smoke. A couple of guys who were probably in their fifties said “good morning” to me as they walked passed me on their way to their pick-up truck. I had been looking at their truck. Some kind of plastic product was stacked up about 15 feet high in the truck bed and wrapped up in cellophane. I asked them if it was tricky driving with that awkward load and they told me that it was and that they were looking forward to delivering the stuff that turned out to be some products used in irrigation.
I spotted a couple of people who were stooped down on their haunches across the street in amongst some trees. Even from a distance they looked like they were in bad shape. I walked over to them. I don’t think they saw me coming. It turned out that it was a guy and a gal and both looked like they were about 30 years of age. It was chilly out and they were shaking. The gal’s face was covered in pimples. They looked like they were going coming off a high. I gave the guy 5 bucks so they could get a coffee. They were a pretty sad sight to see.
We were packed and ready to go at about 8:30 a.m. We grabbed a couple of take-out coffees at a little coffee place in town and got back on Highway 101. In writing this story I couldn’t recall the name of the town so I looked it up on the net. It turns out that that the biggest part of Garberville’s economy is centered on the growing and distribution of pot. The town even has a pot college. Who knew?
Our next stop was going to be small city named Eureka. On the way there the traffic slowed down in front of us and it soon became clear why. A herd of 40-50 elk had decided to take a rest or do some grazing on somebody’s property beside the highway. We got out of the car and took some pictures. It was a nice break from driving.

We were in redwood tree country but didn’t cut off of Highway 101 to see them. We had done that a few years earlier on a trip to Oregon. We spent some time in a big shopping mall in Eureka. I was looking for some maroon coloured deck running shoes but couldn’t find them. We grabbed some lunch and got back out on the highway.
We stayed on Highway 101 and crossed over into Oregon, a state I have visited many times. It is easily my favourite US state. We found ourselves driving in the rain for a good part of the day. It would rain intermittently for the rest of our trip back to Canada.

We decided to spend the night in Florence, Oregon at an older motel called The Old Town Inn. The front desk guy’s name was Corderoy. That’s new one on me. There was someone at the counter ahead of us. I asked Corderoy if they had any deals on rooms and he said they didn’t. After the guy in front of us left Corderoy told us he would give us 10 bucks off our room. He just didn’t want to make that offer in front of the other guy I guess. We asked if there were any good places to eat at in the area and he got out a map. It turned out that the old restored area by the river was just a short walk away. He started circling what he thought were the better eateries. Some other folks came in but he didn’t stop writing. I was quite impressed.
The motel has about 60 rooms and was probably built in the 1950s. You could tell that the whole place had been remodeled with contemporary furniture and new carpeting. There wasn’t much they could do about the popcorn ceiling. There was a rubber yellow duck sitting on the side of the bathtub. If you are ever planning to go to Oregon I highly recommend this place. I love it when a business does well by thinking a bit outside the box. Their website is if you are interested.

The old town area by the river was just a 5 minute walk away. We had dinner at a really nice restaurant in an old building called The Bridgewater.

Day 14 Friday September 24th
I got up early and took the short walk to the old town area. It was raining out. I wanted to see if I could find some place where we could grab a couple of take-out coffees on the way out of town. I found a place. The bridge that crosses over the Siuslaw River at Florence is part of the 101 Highway. I saw a number of folks out their boats doing some early morning salmon fishing.


An engineer named Conde McCullough built 15 bridges on Highway 101 during The Great Depression in the 1930s with federal funding through a works program that was known as the WPA. Most of them have an Art Deco influence.

We stopped by the coffee shop I had found and got two to go. It was busy little place with couches and old lamps and the back windows looked out on the river, the perfect kind of place for local gossip and other conversation. I couldn’t resist a peanut butter chocolate fudge bar.

We drove north through Newport and Lincoln City and passed by the cheese factory at Tillamook. I wanted to check out an area close to the small town of Manzanita, Oregon. It’s called Nehalem Bay State Park. Cannon Beach, an upscale kind of town with the famous “haystacks” near the ocean shore is just a few miles north.

Over the years Linda and I have done a lot of staying in resorts in places like Mexico and the Domican Republic. We’ve also gone on a lot of road trips where we would usually stay in a different place every night. For a few years now I’ve wanted to go to place where we could settle in for a few weeks, explore the area, and pick up some of the local flavour.
We plan to do that next September camping at Nehalem Bay State Park when there aren’t as many kids around. I can picture going for an early morning walk along the beach with our golden retriever Shelby with a cup of coffee in hand. I can also see us walking over to Manzanita and having a few cocktails at the local pub on some evenings. We might even bring along our kayaks. I’d like to explore a river or two on the Oregon coast. We may even stay at a motel by the beach for a few days after camping.
We drove further north and crossed over The Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon into Washington State. This was a big mistake. We should have got on the expressway from Cannon Beach to Portland, Oregon and hooked up with the I-5. Instead we found ourselves on a 2 lane highway with the sun going down. We probably added an extra 2 hours of driving. Finally we met up with the I-5 and continued driving north.


We got off the I-5 at Takoma, Washington and found a motel room for the night. We decided to walk across the road and pick up some take-out at a Jack In The Box. This was a mistake. It took over a half hour to get our orders. They screwed up Linda’s order so badly that they gave it to her for free. I think the gal who served us was on meth or something. She kept dropping things. The whole episode was very strange.

Day 15 Saturday September 25th
We got up early. Our plan was head up to Bellingham, Washington, about 30 minutes south of the Canadian border, do a bit of shopping, pick up some booze, and catch the 3:15 p.m. ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo where we live.
I found the maroon deck running shoes I wanted. We picked up 3 bottles of O’Hara’s at Costco (tastes just like Bailey’s) for $12.95 each for a 40 pounder. We had some clam strips for lunch at Iver’s and hit the road.
We got to the 3:15 ferry with time to spare. We picked up Shelby at the kennel. We both missed him. We had thought about bringing him on our trip but there was no way that was going to work. His stay in a kennel didn’t seem to upset him.
Looking back we certainly saw a lot. Some Americans can be a bit weird at times but you kind of find that everywhere I guess. Personally I think it is great country to visit. I am far more simpatico with their history than other places in the world. We’re looking forward to going back to Oregon next fall.


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